This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
Although Honda Aircraft furloughed employees and shut down its production line in April, president and CEO Michimasa Fujino is optimistic that light jets will be a key player in the recovery of the business aviation industry.
“It’s not only the short-term,” he said, “but we’re assessing how the market goes in the next few years. Our assessment is that we’ll probably see a decreasing market this year and possibly next year.”
The HondaJet production line restarted on May 4, with new countermeasures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, although at a lower rate of production.
“In the near-term, we have to take care of our associates,” Fujino said. This includes sanitizing of facilities and equipment, use of partitions, and social distancing in the Greensboro, North Carolina headquarters, assembly area, customer service facility, and research and development operation. Most engineers are working remotely “and continue to do research activities,” he said.
Meanwhile, the utilization picture for HondaJet owners and operators is interesting. In March, HondaJet and other light jets saw dramatic increases in flight hours, according to Fujino. In April, the rate decreased significantly. “It’s very dynamic,” he said, but he also believes that there are signs that business travelers are looking to business aviation to enable essential movement.
“It might be a good solution for people who have urgent business,” he said. “And they could avoid the risk of Covid-19 by using private aviation. The air-exchange rate for business jets is much more frequent than for [airliners], so that might help. Recently some financial people started to show some interest in traveling in light jets to close their deals. There are some positive signs, but the economy as a whole is declining. It’s a very mixed situation, and that’s why we’re carefully monitoring the situation, including how the market is changing.”
One of the key recent trends has been a larger drop in international business aviation travel, due to the many restrictions countries have enacted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Another factor for Honda Aircraft and other manufacturers is these restrictions make delivery of aircraft to other countries difficult. “The challenge we have now is we have to delay deliveries to international destinations, especially China,” Fujino said. Two HondaJets were delayed during delivery flights and had to stop before reaching their final destinations.
“Those international trips require a lot of coordination,” he said, “and sometimes those aircraft have challenges for flight planning arrangements.” Another issue is that delivery pilots face quarantines and might not be able to return right away or may get stuck at an interim stop.
One of the international deliveries, to China, appeared to be back on track in late April, and Fujino expressed guarded optimism. “We are communicating with our Chinese dealer almost daily, and it looks like the Chinese situation has improved a lot. Many restrictions have already been lifted.”
Back in the U.S., some HondaJet owners are taking advantage of downtime to schedule inspections and upgrades to the APMG performance-improvement package. The FlightSafety HondaJet learning center in Greensboro remains open, although the backlog had dropped from its normal three to four months, according to Fujino. The Greensboro customer service center also remains open and is “business as usual,” he said, “with precautions in place.”
Construction on Honda Aircraft’s new manufacturing facility on the Greensboro campus continues, with the opening scheduled for September.
“If we can promote business aviation to help recover the economy,” he concluded, “this will be best for all of us.”